Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab of being “missing in action” as Afghanistan collapsed to Taliban control – while the Labour leader also admitted he had been left “deeply concerned” by US President Joe Biden’s response to the crisis.
The prime minister and his foreign secretary were both on planned holidays as the Taliban made their advance on – and ultimately captured – Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.
The pair were forced back to London by the ensuing crisis, with Mr Raab reportedly spotted on a beach in Crete on the day Kabul was seized, before flying home to the UK.
Speaking to broadcasters after attending a national security briefing on the current situation in Afghanistan, Sir Keir said it was “completely wrong” for Mr Raab to be on holiday.
“Speak to anybody who has any experience of Afghanistan and they will tell you that it was obvious last week that we were heading to a very serious situation,” the Labour leader said.
“For the prime minister and the foreign secretary to be missing in action at this vital time I think is something which everybody thinks is wrong.”
Sir Keir called on Mr Johnson and Mr Raab to “answer for that” when MPs are recalled to the House of Commons on Wednesday for an emergency debate on the situation in Afghanistan.
The Labour leader also criticised Mr Biden’s response to the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, which has followed the withdrawal of Western troops from the country.
In a live TV address on Monday night, after which he declined to answer questions, the US president stood defiantly behind his decision to withdraw US forces from the country after 20 years.
Mr Biden’s stance has been widely viewed as an “America first” approach to the crisis.
“I was deeply concerned that he didn’t recognise the wider consequences of the action that he’s taken in withdrawing the way he has withdrawn,” Sir Keir said.
“But, you know, we are now faced with a looming humanitarian crisis and we have to focus on getting out those that need to get out quickly and safely, just as quickly as possible.”
The Labour leader also disagreed with Mr Biden’s blaming of Afghanistan’s own armed forces and political leaders for the Taliban takeover.
“I think the big question that’s going to have to be answered sooner or later is why was there this catastrophic miscalculation of the strength of the Taliban on the one hand, and the resilience – or lack of resilience – of the Afghan troops and forces on the other,” Sir Keir said.
“That may not be the question immediately, but it’s got to be answered because it seems to me there was a catastrophic error of judgement in this action.”